Consumer demand for more environmentally responsible vehicles is growing. Lear Corp. (Southfield, MI) promotes green manufacturing in its plants and works closely with automakers and suppliers to reduce the environmental impact of its products. For instance, the company's engineers are attempting to eliminate hazardous materials while addressing environmental aspects of manufacturing.

"Automakers that respond to consumer demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles are putting their emphasis on improved manufacturing processes and lightweight, high-performance or recyclable materials," says Douglas DelGrosso, Lear's president and chief operating officer.

Lear engineers have developed a soybean oil-based polyurethane foam that helps eliminate dependency on petroleum and can be used in head restraints, armrests and seating cushion systems. Other lightweight substitute foam materials in Lear seating systems improve fuel economy, reduce weight and optimize cost.

For instance, Lear engineers recently developed a new type of seat that combines a durable polyurethane skin with a flexible foam, which creates a trim- and fabric-less seat. The FabFoam concept is environmentally friendly, yet offers styling flexibility of the surface finish with dynamic colors, textures and gloss.

Lear has also turned its proprietary expertise in electronics and electrical distribution products, such as wire harnesses, smart junction boxes, fuses, terminals and connectors, to developing hybrid solutions for its customers.

"Due to new regulations and the increasing price of crude oil, more consumers are choosing vehicles, such as hybrids, that have increased fuel-efficiency and a more positive environmental impact," notes DelGrosso. Lear is currently manufacturing high-voltage wiring harnesses for Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI) hybrids. The company is also working on a program for a European automaker, as well as developing prototypes for hybrid vehicles to be introduced in the near future.

Since hybrid vehicles require higher-voltage electrical distribution systems than conventional vehicles, DelGrosso says these systems need to be managed safely. To address that issue, Lear engineers are developing new products to handle high currents and voltage, such as power PCB, DC-AC inverters for electrical machines, and DC-DC converters and stabilizers for the different voltages.